Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

February 25, 2005 (link)

11:58 PM

Who just got here searching on "tenoroon mp3"? Whoever you are, say hello -- we're probably, like, soulmates or something.

The snow tonight is quite beautiful -- on my way home, I stopped at the store, and as I walked back to my car, I stood there for a moment and watched the flakes slowly pass under the streetlights. I don't remember ever seeing snowflakes like this in New Hampshire -- they're huge and crystalline, like shavings of glass or soap flakes, and when they cover things it's more like a cover of leaves, or of flower petals, than the undifferentiated mass of white I'm used to.

Current music: FWT Band (feat. Greg Platkin) - "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and "Mississippi Mud" ("...and we here at FWT Band don't break promises.")

(Comments for February 25, 2005) (2 comments so far)

February 20, 2005 (link)

1:36 PM

(Pretty cute, aren't they?)

1:32 PM

(Aha: it means "swift" in Latin. Stands to reason, I suppose. It's also a type of photographic paper, among half a million other things.)

Current music: Stravinsky - Concerto in D

12:15 AM


In the '60s, my contact with David Tudor and Karlheinz Stockhausen stirred my interest in this area. Experiences with the Moog and Buchla systems fascinated me. However, that technology was so limited we were forced to indulge in electronic "finger painting" to get at the more interesting sounds. By the time I got the equipment configured so that it began to interest me, the signal-to-noise ratio was out of hand.

Another innovation in the '60s was the sudden accessibility of the computer. This new "toy" was fraught with possibilities, but very cumbersome to use. My piece Velox (1970) focused on the computer's ability to create patterns (I used a canon technique as a way of creating textures), but this new resource wasn't all that useful in the making of day-to-day music. I was active in electronic music for about six years before giving it up and returning to acoustic instruments. Impatient, I didn't want to struggle with the unwieldy equipment anymore, I had some music to make. There was just more flexibility, control and variety in the old instruments. I agreed with Pierre Boulez that we needed to build electronic instruments that were easier to use and ones that could get at the new sounds we wanted to hear. Today, technology has improved so much that ideas we dreamed about in the '60s can now finally be realized. I've become interested again. This is a fertile field for new music. Some of the sounds I heard in the '60s in our better moments are readily available with this new equipment.

There's something to be said for listening to something "blind" and then reading about it, I think.

Thanks, Mr. Woodbury! I don't agree with everything in your essay, but I did enjoy your piece, and enjoyed writing about it too. Why'd you call it "Velox", I wonder?

Current music: Nick Drake - "Voices"

(Comments for February 19, 2005)

February 19, 2005 (link)

11:40 PM

I will now listen to Arthur Woodbury's piece "Velox", taken from a 10-inch, 33RPM record that came with Issue No. 7-8 of Source Magazine in the late '60s. (I have it on MP3.) Beyond the above, I know absolutely nothing about it. It's about ten minutes long, and I'll make notes as I go.

From the beginning:

Crackly vinyl. We're twenty seconds in and all I hear is vinyl noise. Now a steady hum comes in, a major chord on E, together with a high feedback-like whine on F-sharp. In the background are rising analog synth sounds, steadily getting louder. We're 90 seconds in now, and the synth sounds are coming to the front; they sound like stylized versions of racecars speeding up -- upward glisses that fade out as they rise. You might imagine aliens exchanging tracer rounds. I think I can make out some faint falling sounds to go with the rising sounds, but it's the ascent that dominates.

Three minutes in, and we're still in much the same place. It's a nice place, though. Is it the vinyl that makes it easier to take? Aha, the main pitch just dropped about a quarter-tone, like some great motor that stalls a bit when the power starts to fail. When I was nine I wrote a program on my Color Computer that made sounds like these. (Well, sort of like these.) I wrote a storyline to go with it; every time you tripped IF INKEY$<>"" THEN by hitting a key, it'd page to the next sound. I hope the floppy disk I saved the program on still works.

OK, five minutes in, and not so much has changed. The big hum still is present, though now it sounds less tonally clear -- kind of a C-sharp, kind of something else. Those aliens are still shooting at each other. Maybe it's not shooting, but some form of greeting? "Many have died needlessly". I keep expecting things to thin out, but as soon as they start to do so, all the rising noises come right back.

Seven minutes in. I wonder what the sketchy guy who accosted me as I was driving out of the supermarket today would've thought of this? I probably shouldn't have given him six bucks. I probably should've checked to make sure the six bucks I gave him didn't have any receipts or anything tucked in with it. Live and learn. Would he have honked his horn and stopped me if I'd been blasting this music? Probably.

Eight minutes in. Yep, this is one of those "one thing happens" pieces. I don't mind that kind of piece, in moderation, if the sounds are nice. These sounds are fine. I wonder what Mr. Arthur Woodbury meant to do with this piece? I'm hearing a new noise now, at nine minutes, but I can't tell whether it's just my heat coming on. I went through three years of getting pissed off at the heat coming on in the music library when I was in college, with a loud racket that would disrupt my listening completely, before I figured out that I could just turn the thermostat down.

And...it's over. Hmmm.

Well, John Cage quoted a Zen master as saying that if something was boring, you should do it ten times. I'm no acolyte of Cage, and this wasn't boring per se, and I don't want to do it ten times, so I'll do it one more time. Maybe I'll learn something.

From the beginning, once more:

The fade-in of the initial sound is kind of nice. It's not without a certain soothing quality. I've always had an ambivalent relationship to drones qua drones; sometimes they seem lazy, but I've had some pretty disparate ones -- Charlemagne Palestine, Deep Chill Network, Neon From Candlelight -- that worked for me at certain moments. This one isn't annoying, which is about seventy percent of the battle.

Two minutes in. I wonder how Mr. Woodbury made this piece? It seems like there's something semi-automatic about those rising analog glisses, like they go through a cycle that's about 90 seconds or two minutes long. If I had to guess, I'd think it was made with a Moog, rather than with one of the super-elaborate systems with punch cards and so on, à la Babbitt. Maybe the cycle is shorter than 90 seconds, since it just thinned out again -- it seems closer to a minute.

Four minutes in. The phrase "bad yam" just popped into my head, from Fool's Errand. Where did it come from? Some association between "maybe I'll learn something" and "we are the last of those who care", perhaps. ("Ladies enjoy and perhaps favor odd rowdy jigs of yore.") I wonder if Charlemagne Palestine has heard this track. (Suddenly I'm afraid that Charlemagne Palestine is actually Mr. Woodbury.)

Six minutes in. What does "Velox" mean, anyway? It sounds like an old brand of refrigerator, or like a term someone made up to sound "alien" or "futuristic", but perhaps it's neither of those things. Dammit, I wish my speaker would stop cutting out. Someday I'll learn the physics of why that happens. It's nice to be reminded of a time when the vocabulary of electroacoustic music was sculpted by a set of instruments that, whatever their limits, tended to make pleasingly homey sounds.

Nine minutes. Did they have analog sequencers back then? It seems too simple a piece to be elaborately set up, but too complex and too slowly periodic to be an LFO-based process.

And...it's over again. Time to put this entry up.

Current music: Nick Drake - "Three Hours (alt. take)"

(Comments for February 19, 2005)


Current reading:

The Sign of Four, Arthur Conan Doyle

just finished:

A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle (audio book edition from Project Gutenberg)


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